When Christopher Daniels joined TNA’s stable of young wrestlers as one of the originals back in 2002, he thought the fledgling company could make it big in the crazy, men-in-tights-smashing-each-other-with-chairs world of professional wrestling.
“The first couple of years when we were doing pay-per-views on Wednesdays out of Nashville, there was a lot of talk that the company wasn’t going to last because we had a different business plan. We didn’t have television in place; it was just pay-per-views,” Daniels said. “But in the locker room, we didn’t feel that. We knew we had a good locker room; it was just a matter of consistently putting out great product. Because of that, we went from Nashville down to Orlando to do the show for Fox Sports Net, and finally for Spike. Slowly but surely, we’ve taken the baby steps forward of going from a taped show to a live show, going from Saturday nights to Thursday nights, and going from outside of prime time to inside of prime time. All of these things, all of these steps we’ve been able to take forward because of the talent in the ring and the ways we’re keeping fans interested in what we’re doing.”
This Sunday, TNA is breaking out one of its biggest pay-per-views of the year, with Daniels and his tag-team partner Frankie Kazarian (Bad Influence) getting their shot at the coveted tag-team championship in a triple threat against the likes of Bobby Roode and Austin Aries and Shawn Hernandez and Chavo Guerrero Jr.
Here’s what Daniels has to say about the event, the company and whether or not he sees Hulk Hogan coming back for one final match in the company he now helps run.
ESPN Playbook: What do you think is the biggest difference in TNA today from when you first started with the company a little over 10 years ago?
Christopher Daniels: I think that with of all the hard work of guys like AJ Styles and James Storm and Bobby Roode, we’ve really opened up the eyes of wrestling fans to where it became conceivable that guys like Kurt Angle and Christian Cage and the Dudley Boyz and Hulk Hogan could come to TNA and make it a better product. If it wasn’t for the work of the originals, guys that left WWE wouldn’t have come to TNA; they would’ve just went on to do their own thing. But because those guys saw the spirit of the homegrown talent, they saw that they could help build and grow something that could be an alternative to what WWE is putting out.
You, AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe have wrestled in some of the greatest matches of the last decade. Is there one match between any combination of you three that stands out as your personal favorite?
Definitely, it’s the Unbreakable 2005 main event. It’s the first time we ever did the three-way. A lot of things just seemed to come together at the same time. The Impact Zone crowd was really pumped to see three TNA homegrown talents in a main event, and it was just a special atmosphere. We knew while we were going through the match, that we were on to something special, and now, people still call it the best match in company history.
For fans who haven’t tuned in to TNA yet, what do you think helps differentiate your show from what WWE brings?
The TNA roster is made up of guys who are hungry and who are looking to make their break on the national scene, who may or may not have had that opportunity in WWE. What I think differentiates us is I feel like we’re a little more action-packed. I feel like we have the most talented roster in professional wrestling, and we have guys like Bobby Roode, James Storm, and Kurt Angle, then we have myself and my partner Frankie Kazarian, and I feel like we’re the best tag team in the business right now, and to me, TNA puts more of a priority on the in-ring action. I think you’ll see a lot more great wrestling in TNA than anywhere else in the world.
You guys used to have the six-sided ring, but now you’re back to the traditional squared-circle. Which ring do you prefer?
I really don’t prefer one over the other. I understood when we got the six-sided ring why we did that, to kind of stand out, but when we went back to the four-sided ring, I could see that point as well, going back to the more traditional, more recognized look of professional wrestling. The truth of the matter is that the look of the ring doesn’t matter, it’s what’s going on inside that ring that matters to me. To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s four sides, six sides or perfectly round -- all I care about is the action going on inside.
Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff joined TNA a few years back. How have they changed the culture of the company?
They’ve brought their own creativity to it. Eric and Hulk have their own ideas about how we should change the presentation of the show, whether that’s backstage vignettes or bringing parts of reality television into our presentation. There’s also more long-term planning involved now than there was two or three years ago in terms of our storylines and characterizations, and I for one, am very happy to work with this particular creative team. I feel like they’ve given myself and Frankie Kazarian a lot of opportunity to grow, and we’ve taken that opportunity to become one of the more entertaining parts of our television show.
Why do you think there’s so much emphasis on singles wrestling as opposed to tag-team wrestling these days?
I think it sort of goes in stages. There are periods of time, in TNA for instance, where two to three years ago you had teams like Beer Money and the Motor City Machine Guns, but for whatever reason, whether it’s injury or through the storyline, these teams break up and move on. Right now, I feel like Frankie and myself are bringing a lot of attention back to the tag-team division. We’ve put our efforts toward being, not only the best tag team in TNA, but in professional wrestling. I think once more teams come to TNA, there will be a lot emphasis on the tag division, and Frankie and I want to be ahead of that.
It seems like there have been a lot of hints bout Hulk Hogan coming back to wrestle. Is that something you think is going to happen?
I think it all depends. I know he recently had some pretty serious health issues in terms of his back, but if he was healthy and ready to go, it would be great for our company. It would definitely get a lot of eyes and bring a lot of attention to our product if he was out there wrestling again. But first and foremost, you don’t want him coming out of the ring worse than he went in, so it would be up to him to see if he could give it a go 100 percent or not. Either way, I feel that just the fact that Hulk Hogan is a part of our product, it brings a lot of attention to us and brings a spotlight to our product. I feel like once people get a taste of what Impact Wrestling is, we could keep them interested and involved in our product.
The main storyline in TNA right now involves the faction Aces & Eights. What’s been the reaction of the locker room as this story continues to play out?
I think that the guys in the back, we’ve got some great guys involved in that group, and it was a great surprise to have Devon come back and be involved with that. It’s rejuvenated his career and puts him in the spotlight that he definitely deserves to be in. For the rest of the locker room, I feel like we’re playing the whole invasion angle that’s always been a very intricate storyline played out through different promotions in the history of professional wrestling. And I feel like the fans are definitely engaged in watching this Aces & Eights group try and run roughshod over TNA. It depends where we go with this over the next couple of months on how this all plays out.
This is the first Lockdown pay-per-view where every match isn’t inside a steel cage. Did you like the concept of having every feud carried over to the cage?
When you don’t have every match inside the steel cage, it certainly makes the two or three matches that are in the cage more special, but I felt like it was a challenge to be a part of a show where every match was in a cage because it made it challenging for us to make every match stand out and different from all of the others.
What is the positioning of TNA and Impact Wrestling moving forward? Are you guys content to be the second biggest promotion, or are you guys going after WWE in the near future?
Of course, you have to understand that the World Wrestling Federation and World Wrestling Entertainment have been around for the better half of 70 years. They’re firmly entrenched, and over the course of that time, they’ve become synonymous with professional wrestling. Impact Wrestling and TNA is only 11 years old. There’s going to become a point where we’re slowly but surely making people aware of our product and letting them know that there is an alternative to WWE. But it’s not an overnight process. We’re making people aware of us, and whether it’s Hulk Hogan or Kurt Angle or Jeff Hardy, whatever name draws the attention first, once people have sampled our product, I feel like if they’re real wrestling fans, they definitely stay involved and stay interested in guys like Bobby Roode and myself and Frankie Kazarian and AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. Once they watch, they become a fan. So while I would love us to be as popular and as watched as World Wrestling Entertainment, it’s going to take time, and I’m in it for the long haul and so is the rest of the locker room.
There are a lot of rumors floating around that TNA has been meeting with Activision in hopes of signing a video game deal. How big would that be to the company?
It’s exciting news for the company. I was involved in the making of our first game years ago, and as a wrestler, to be a part of a video game, to me, was a very big deal. I hope that the plans come through for the video game, and I look forward to see what comes from that. The gaming community is an integral part of professional wrestling fandom. There’s such a big crossover between gamers and professional wrestling fans, so it would be a very big deal for us to finally get another game out on the market.